From time immemorial, the Yurok people have called the coastal area north of Trinidad – located in the heart of their ancestral lands – Sue-meg. Today, some 170 years after the name usurped, the 1 square mile property with meadows, forest lands, and long beaches stretching beneath towering cliffs will be officially known as Sue-meg State Park. .
The State Parks and Recreation Commission voted unanimously on September 30 – as one commissioner put it – to “restore the name” of the unit originally designated as Patrick’s Point State Park.
“Claiming a name is really at the heart of it all,” said Commissioner Sara Barth, noting that she did not see the decision as a “renaming”. “It restores a name that has been taken inappropriately.”
The change is the first for a state park as part of California’s “Review of Our Past Initiative,” which was launched by the state last year in response to what the Secretary of Natural Resources said. California, Wade Crowfoot, has described it as “historic names that stem from a dark legacy that includes discrimination, violence and inequity.”
California State Parks Director Armando Quintero, who appeared moved in the final vote with his hands clasped in front of his face, called the decision “a momentous step in healing relationships with Native Americans and working together in recognition and recognition. honor of Indigenous culture. and linguistic relations.
Several members of the Yurok tribe spoke to the commission about the importance of returning the land to its rightful name and removing the nickname that referred to Patrick Beegan, an Irish immigrant who briefly claimed the protruding peninsula in the 1850s as whites infiltrated the region. in the middle of the gold rush.
Historians believe Beegan is responsible for many atrocities, including the killings of Native Americans, including a young boy Yurok. He lost the property after fleeing law enforcement in connection with the murder.
Yurok Tribe President Joseph L. James said the historic September 30 decision was a step towards healing.
“Indigenous peoples around the world (…) are watching or listening and watching the opportunity we have here today,” he said. “Renaming Sue-meg … it brings us back to balance as the Yurok people.”
Rosie Clayborn, Yurok Tribal Heritage Preservation Officer, spoke about the attempted genocide and destruction of indigenous communities that occurred after contact, with indigenous people subjected to institutionalized violence and driven from their ancestral lands, their families torn apart as children were forcibly sent to residential schools in an attempt to strip them of their culture. Not all of them returned home.
“My ancestors and the Yurok ancestors fought to stay connected to this place we call Sue-meg and the surrounding places. They fought with their lives,” she said, noting that the name of the slain boy by Beegan had never been documented in official records. of the time, and that he will never receive full justice for what was done to him.
“But what we can do,” she said, “is honor their heritage by using our language.”
Clayborn began to choke on how far such intergenerational traumas were not so distant, claiming that she had the opportunity to speak with Yurok elders who were among those taken from home. them and sent to boarding schools. The scars of what they endured – including the beatings they received for speaking their language – are still evident, she said.
Restoring the Sue-meg name, said Clayborn, has great meaning for the Yurok people and is an act that connects both the past and the future.
“It gives a more balanced and fairer world not only to the Yurok children but to all children.”
The “Reexamine Our Past” initiative that led to the designation of Sue-meg State Park builds on Governor Gavin Newsom’s formal apology in 2019 for the state’s systemic role in the attempted genocide of indigenous communities and efforts to destroy their cultures. Newsom’s initiative also established the tribal-led Truth and Healing Council to “correct historical records and recognize wrongdoing.”
Terry Supahan, director of the faith-based True North Organizing Network, which has formed an intertribal name change committee, applauded the decision in a press release.
“This is a healing journey and a way forward,” he said. “It is so important to our communities throughout Northern California that we recognize the genocide that Indigenous people experienced here and move forward to ‘settle in’ and make things right, so that we can work together to take care for a special land and be responsible for climate change. “
Along with his apology and the formation of the Truth and Healing Council, the governor also launched the California ’30 by 30′ initiative last year, which aims to conserve 30% of the state’s land and waters. coastal areas by 2030 through voluntary efforts with Native American tribes and private landowners. , as well as federal and local governments.
“The renaming of Sue-meg State Park is a major first step towards respecting indigenous traditional knowledge on how to manage this land appropriately,” said Skip Lowry, a local father from Yurok, Mountain. Maidu and Pit River descent, in a statement. “We hope this is the start of real consultation and collaboration between California government agencies and indigenous tribes on ancestral lands now known as state parks, national parks, and public lands.”
When Sue-meg State Park – a 600-acre property stretching from northern Trinidad to Agate Beach – was brought into the fold of California State Park nearly 100 years ago, the area was already well known. under the name of Patrick’s Point in reference to Beegan and therefore the name has stuck, until now.
Long before, however, Sue-meg was a full-fledged cultural and commercial center for the Yurok people. In the 1970s, the place was chosen as the reburial site for the remains of tribal ancestors returned by the state parks department in a historic case.
Walt Lara Sr., who served for seven years on the Native American Heritage Commission of California – which was a key litigation in the case and was instrumental in protecting Indigenous graves and burial grounds – took speaking at the September 30 ceremony hearing, saying there were no Yurok prayers to address the moment, so a tribal elder created one.
“It was more or less: ‘We put our people to rest and leave them alone and not bother them anymore,” Lara told commissioners.
Now 86, Lara was also involved in the original construction of the village of Sue-meg in the park in the 1980s, an effort spearheaded by tribal members Dewey George, Jimmy James and others using the traditional skills, and he now oversees the restoration of the Yurok ceremonial. to place.
Lara told commissioners it felt great to see Sue-meg’s name restored to the country.
“The governor has apologized to our people and that will seal them as far as I am concerned,” he said.
Kimberly Wear (she / she) is the Journal’s digital editor. Contact her at 442-1400, ext. 323, or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wear.